10 Tips For Effective Recovery During Vacation Time

Who doesn’t know this scenario: The time has come to take your annual leave and while you look forward to it, you also sense your stress level rise… how are you going to finish everything that needs to get done before you leave? You want to leave behind a clean inbox, do a proper handover to your back-up and make sure that things are lined up for smooth execution. Yet, in spite of your very best efforts, when you log off you’re not only exhausted, but there is STILL stuff left undone. During your time away from work, guilty feelings about pending commitments keep creeping up in your mind and are hard to erase. Actually, thinking about all the additional to-do’s that pile up during your absence raises your pulse rate. What about the supposed recovery you should be experiencing during your vacations, if taking time off only leads to more stress before, during and after your holidays?

Wouldn’t it be a very logical and tempting remedy to “just do a little bit of work” during vacation time? At least, this would help you to keep up with what’s going on and to fend off the anxiety of being welcomed back by a pile of tasks upon your return, wouldn’t it? And it’s so easy nowadays to take your laptop or work phone with you to connect remotely. This temptation could be amplified when you normally work from home, and your holidays are a staycation – how are you supposed to truly disconnect if you are not physically getting away from your workplace? You could even pretend that you are away – both towards your colleagues and/or to your family. No kidding: According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, 2% of senior managers lied to someone they were with, such as a spouse/significant other, in order to do work during time off without that person knowing. Covert or not, in that same survey 12% of respondents said that someone they were with during their time off nagged them because they were doing work. As these numbers date back to 2014, we are willing to go out on a limb here and speculate that they would be even higher today.

So, what you can do to truly disconnect? And is working during vacations really so bad? We have discussed this in our (fully remote) team, considering each one of us has a different behavioral style and preferences around this topic. Here are our top 10 tips for effective recovery during vacation time.

Before your holidays:

  1. Prepare for your absence ahead of time, don’t wait until the last day. Set time aside to finish tasks before you leave, plan and schedule a handover with your back-up, and leave clear instructions. Consider activating your out-of-office notification 1 or 2 days in advance to give you more (mental) calm to finish pending items.
  2. Equally helpful: Inform people in advance about your upcoming absence to avoid surprises of unexpected/urgent/critical last-minute tasks. Let your colleagues and your customers know when you’ll be away and give them plenty of notice. This allows everyone to schedule work that involves you around your holidays, and ultimately helps others to support you in taking well-deserved time off.
  3. As mindfully as you normally plan your work, plan your vacation. What kind of break do you need? How do you want to feel during those days? What experiences do you need to create for yourself to make that happen? For example, if you need to rest and relax, avoid packing your holidays with lots of activities or physically demanding adventures.
  4. Already at this stage, look ahead to the time when you’ll get back. Don’t pack your days with meetings as of day 1 upon your return. If others can add appointments to your calendar, block those days off. Schedule the reverse handover and allow sufficient time to ramp on again. Otherwise, you risk losing the recovery effect of your holidays faster than you can spell “recreational leave of absence”.

During your time off:

  1. Switch off all notifications on your phone to avoid disruption and to minimize the temptation to “just check”. If this is not enough to stop you from browsing through your work-related apps, temporarily remove them from your phone. This hack makes it more cumbersome to connect and thus helps to be more disciplined in staying away from work.
  2. Use the first few days of leave to “decompress”. Your mind and body may need to rest more than usual, so allow for flexible plans that you can change depending on how you feel in the moment. Light activities can ease your way into relaxing mode. Also, be mindful of what you eat, hydrate enough and do the things that your body will thank you for.
  3. A little further into your vacation, consider building a holiday routine. Remember the purpose of your time off and act on it. Whether you set out to feel refreshed, challenged, inspired or connected, what are the ingredients to achieve this? It may mean lying on a beach, climbing a mountain, visiting museums, or learning about new cultures. Whatever it is, the key is to ask yourself what you need to be properly on vacation, so you’re not tempted to work instead.
  4. Last but not least, trust your colleagues! Your ego may not like to hear this, but the organization will survive without you. Create that mindset and learn to embrace it. Once you sincerely believe it, it can actually feel quite liberating to know that someone else will carry the torch for a while. In fact, perhaps this is a great opportunity to delegate your tasks to someone who feels motivated, empowered and will be proud to prove themselves!

Upon your return to work:

  1. If you did a proper job in planning time and space for ramping on again, you shouldn’t be met with an insurmountable workload upon your return. Start slowly, possibly leaving your out-of-office notification activated 1 or 2 days longer to manage other people’s expectations about your response time. Try to get an overview quickly, prioritize pending items and then process them one by one.
  2. For as long as you can, retain the positive holiday vibe that you hopefully experienced during your vacation. When stress and overwhelm creep up on you, and it feels like you are about to get trapped in the hamster wheel again, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and remember your holidays. Visualize your favorite moments, smile and bear in mind what really matters in life. Making memories that count can nourish your heart and soul for years to come. All the rest is just fluff.

Alright, you say, but what if I really, really have to work during my time off? Well, first, ask yourself and be brutally honest: Do you really have to work during this time, or do you actually want to work? That’s a fundamental difference! Even expert opinions diverge on whether to work or not to work during vacation. We believe the answer is not black and white and there is no one-size-fits-all recipe. If it makes you feel better to check in occasionally and handle any critical items, which then allows you to truly disconnect for the rest of the time, this may actually be your option of choice. If, on the other hand, you cannot turn your mind off once it gets turned on during vacation, it may be better to stay away from work 100% throughout your vacation. Both scenarios can work, as long as they work for you. Experiment until you find your individual balance but once you do, be disciplined and stick to it; otherwise, you leave the door open for work-creep and potentially create a source of conflict with your loved ones, who deserve your undivided attention.

Having said all of the above and regardless of the diversity in work styles we represent as a team, we are united in the belief that taking time off is critical in maintaining long-term high-performance habits and living your balance. And no one but you are in the driver’s seat to determine how that looks like. Take a break, do your best to unplug. Take care of yourself – your mental and physical well-being deserve it. In the end, you will only regret the vacations that you didn’t take.


Authored by Martina Mangelsdorf, Chief Strategic Dreamer at GAIA Insights.